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My Dear, You Look Radishing

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Sometimes you just have to know when to run for it. That fight or flight response kicks in and you know that punches will be less effective than a trail of dust, so you kick up your heels and get out of dodge. I had an experience like this once in a local grocery store, and while there was no pedal to the metal, I did make good time on the aisle corners with that buggy. Like a million others before me, all I wanted to do was buy a few vegetables. Enter Weird Grocery Guy.

The perfect place for an ambush

The perfect place for an ambush

I was standing in the produce section trying to decide between asparagus or zucchini squash when I turned to find him blocking my cart.

“Excuse me! I don’t want to interfere with your shopping, but I simply had the urge to tell you that I think you’re beautiful.”

As far as opening lines for men declaring their affections against a backdrop of Portobello mushrooms and pole beans, it wasn’t a bad start. But the fact that he was blinking like a caution light, sweating profusely, and gesticulating like an Edgar Allan Poe narrator made me take a step back into the red cabbage section.

“Oh, I don’t want to bother you!” Blink, blink. “I have zero expectations about dates!” Jab wildly into the air. “I just think that women like you should be told more often that they’re beautiful.” Blink, blink, blink, mop forehead.

“Oh,” I said, curling my fingers around my buggy handle and scouting the area to my immediate left for an opening. “How. . . nice of you.”

“Oh, don’t mention it.” Arms flailing. “I’m the perfect man for the job!” Blink, blink.

Two thoughts crossed my mind: one, why couldn’t rising unemployment rates put this man out of a job, and two, why didn’t I have the FBI’s number on speed dial? I was just about to arm myself with red potatoes and pelt away, but then he stepped around my buggy to close the gap, and I took off like Secretariat at Belmont. To heck with asparagus or fresh squash. It was feeling more like a double-bolt-your-door-and-have-a-slice-of-frozen-pizza-while-oiling-your-shotgun kind of night by the minute.

I made good time through the candy aisle and finally shook him in the cheap wine section. He must have been a Baptist, since no self-respecting member of that denomination would be caught dead amidst the Chardonnay lest a deacon spy him and set up an intervention plan to pull him back from the evils of alcohol. Sometimes it really does pay to know your local demographics.

I can lose him in here!

I can lose him in here!

I shopped cautiously the rest of that trip, and when I reached an end cap of an aisle, I tentatively peered around the corner before emerging in plain sight. At the end of the soup aisle, I saw WGG with another victim hemmed in by the salad starters. I couldn’t read expressions from that far away, but I could see the broad, sweeping arm motions, looking as if he was trying to land a plane on the Vidalia onions. By the time I reappeared on the other side of the pastas, Victim 2 was wheeling away with enough velocity to lay tire tread on the linoleum. Just another satisfied customer of the Beautiful Compliments industry.

© 2014 – Traci Carver

Writing Tour

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If only the books in that box had my name on them ...

If only the books in that box had my name on them …

From time to time fellow bloggers will send a writing challenge your way, and I actually liked the content of this one since it involved the craft of writing. I was also threatened with seven years of bad luck if I broke the chain, so that was another powerful incentive to put fingers to the keyboard. I’d like to thank Jon Eekhoff from South of the Strait for including me on this tour. Jon is a fellow teacher down in the trenches of education, but I most appreciate his travel writing about his incredible European adventure last summer. Jon can pull you into a story and make you laugh as he offers you the good, the bad, and the hilarious of some of his perceptions. Now onto the questions!

  1. What am I working on now?

Mostly packing labels and apartment applications. And while these are only marginally less likely to land the Pulitzer than my unpublished novel, they are certainly more functional since they will provide me with a place to live and dishes to support my chicken salad after a long day at work.

My other work involves one novel, The Truth of Wishing Wells, which is a story about the disappearance of a young woman from a small, southern town, and the aftermath her husband and daughter must face as they wade through a deluge of gossip and conjecture.

I’ve also written reams of memoir about my time in Indonesia, but I don’t have enough structure to roll it through a printing press.

And then there’s my blog. Anecdotal in nature, my posts are intended to sharpen my writing skills beyond the cryptic little scribbles I make along the sides of the student essays I grade. When you spend countless hours jotting comma splice, misplaced modifier, and really? in margins, you lose the finesse of dialogue.

2. How does my work differ from others in the genre.

If I’m considering my novel, I start snarling over that word genre since many agents kicked it around to mainstream fiction. Told from a dual point of view, the daughter’s and the husband’s, it was neither young adult nor women’s so mainstream was the best sticker to put on it. When I wrote the blasted thing, I simply wrote the story that unfolded from an idea; I didn’t realize how essential it would be to pigeonhole it.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I’ve always heard to write what you know. Consequently, my settings are either small, southern towns or remote fishing villages with only one awkward, white woman for hundreds of miles. Unless you count those rude European tourists in their tank tops and blatant disregard for the local culture, which I did not. I know what it feels like to live in a fishbowl on both foreign and domestic soil, so I write accordingly.

4. How does my writing process work?

Since I’m the most consistent with my blog, I seek out post material based on the following criteria: if it was embarrassing, awkward, or downright painful, then I’ve usually got a good story to tell. If something more than a bit of humor emerges, great; but if not, then I know I have a gracious group of followers who will say, “Oh, look. Traci wrote about doing a face plant in McDonalds. Isn’t that cute?” Like.

And now to tag a couple of innocent bystanders. I nominate Rebecca White Body from Moments of Unexpected Beauty and Marian Beaman from Plain and Fancy.

Rebecca is a kindred spirit who is a former English teacher, lover of words, and craftsman at the keyboard. She shares about her life and even some of the past from her family members.

Marian is the Barnabas of bloggers. If you need a word of encouragement, stop by her blog and make a comment. She’s one interesting lady with her Plain background and Fancy conversion, and she’s one of the most gracious people you’ll meet on the internet.

Ladies, the baton is in your grasp.

For my Kids

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photo grading papers

Written for my students on my decision to take a job several hours away.

I walked into my classroom for the first time in 2006. I taught only underclassmen then, and even a couple of sections of middle school, but I knew as soon as the first class started that I had found my niche: I loved everything about upper school students.

I was hard on you. For many of you, your first day in my classroom was akin to a nightmare because I was so stern and exacting in my approach. I wanted you to take my class seriously. I wanted you to learn to love literature or, at the very least, appreciate it. I wanted you to become effective writers. I wanted you to see my classroom as a tiny slice of the real world, in which responsibility is crucial to survival and excellence is more than creating carbon dioxide in a desk. I wanted you to push yourselves in order to find your true limits.

And so we began this journey together, and you didn’t disappoint me. You have read hundreds of pages of literature and poetry. I know because when you didn’t, I’d catch you on one of my countless pop quizzes that earned me the title Quiz Queen by my third year. You’ve worked on projects, both on the group and individual level, and produced mythological statues, Odyssey board games, skits, poetry anthologies, power point presentations, song parodies that you performed in front of your peers, and even a rap that summarized Othello. You wore head coverings for an entire school day in order to help you connect with cultures around the world, you welcomed and chauffeured a WWII speaker, and you even went on a priest scavenger hunt to reinforce the brutality of communism in Southern Mexico in the 1930’s. And between all of that, you wrote papers. Innumerable drafts of papers. I know because I read every word. I read your thoughts on pieces of great literature and your thoughts on your personal lives. Some of you have even trusted me with sensitive information that few others know. I have valued your hard work. I have valued your transparency. I have valued your trust.

I never walked into this school with the goal of becoming your friend. That wasn’t my place; it wasn’t my role. I was your teacher. Which meant that I have been as hard as nails on you. With the exceptions of death in the family or a doctor’s note saying you were having a CAT scan, I cut you zero slack for assignments. A friend will make allowances and give you a free pass; a teacher will hold your feet to the fire. I was unmoved by your tears, and your excuses made no difference. I needed for you to learn your lesson. I wanted you to learn it with me instead of with an employer who doesn’t care why you’re late again or the bank manager who’s threatening to foreclose. I needed for you to learn how to be a responsible adult with me, because the consequences in the real world are far greater than a few penalty points taken on a paper. Many of you just accepted this as my way and learned how to operate under my system. But some of you guessed the reason why I demanded so much: you know it’s because I care.

And I do care. Deeply. That’s why I expected so much from you. I expect a lot of myself. But I’ve learned that by setting the bar high, you begin to jump. And some of you have even soared. I have no other way to explain why my freshman grades are still increasing in the fourth quarter when we’re covering the most difficult material of the year. You’re still jumping, still reaching for that bar. And no one smiles more brightly or has more pride when you reach it than I do. You have worked tirelessly for me this year, and I honor that.

I’m looking back on eight wonderful years. They’ve been gratifying because of you.   The technical term I should use to label you is students. But you’ve rarely been my students to me. Soon after I began teaching here, I started calling you my kids. And you are. My hope is that one day you’ll know why I’ve been so hard on you. Why I made your high school years a trial by fire. Why I came down on you like a sack of hammers. I did it because I want you to live beautiful lives. I want you to meet life’s problems with tenacity. I want you to soar.

And when you do, I’ll be smiling.

© 2014 – Traci Carver